A look into
A small sample
In this exhibition, there are drawings of slave ships where one can see how captured Africans were packed like sardines in a tin. There are drawings of these human cargos, examples of iron necklaces, iron masks, whips, and illustrations of how slaves were branded by hot irons with the initials of their owners.
There are old yearbooks with comprehensive records of plantations, their owners, “white officers”, managers, overseers and slaves. In those days, it was normal to per-ceive people as property. They treated them like animals and made them literally work themselves to death.
However, before 1863, when the Netherlands as the last European country abolished slavery, it could sometimes happen that slaves would be freed or their freedom could be bought.
The Governor then issued release letters (letters of manumission) that former slaves always should carry along as proof that they were free people.
There is also an example of such a letter of manumission on display. A yellowish, well-thumbed piece of paper is shown in a vitrine. A part of its text is preprinted, and the rest of it consists of a gracefully handwritten text stating the name of the former owner, the proposed name of the former slave as a free person and his/her chosen occupation. Not less than six persons had signed the letter.
I get goosebumps when I read the handwritten part of the letter, and a shudder goes through my entire body. I have to read the text once more. Did I really see what I think I saw? Yes, it is true ... there it is… it says Woiski… This letter appears to be the release letter of my great-great-grandmother, Elisabeth Clasina Woiski.
This morning in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, I start an extraordinary, unexpected and weird journey. The last stop of that journey is this book.